When I told her what I was doing, my wife’s jaw dropped, and she asked, “How long are you going to do this?”

I replied: “As long as I can.”

Through the italki platform, I have scheduled 30-minute Chinese lessons with professional teachers at 6 a.m. on almost every day of the week. I’ll primarily be studying Advanced lessons from ChinesePod.com. We started with 城管与小摊贩, followed by 婚前恐惧症 and 《易经》的本意. I do three lessons a week—first with one teacher, then do the same lesson again on another day with another teacher.

Why am I doing such a thing? Because I’ve discovered that, even though I have a Chinese wife, work at a Chinese company, and attend a Chinese church, I simply don’t make progress unless I pay the money.

My biggest obstacle is, as it always has been, my atrocious memory. I have to go over the same words and materials again and again before anything sticks. I just don’t run into that kind of repetition in real life, hence the absolute necessity for classes. I’ve set a monthly budget of $200. Compared to how much I spent on school in China, this is a bargain.

I read recently a study that said when a person lives in a foreign country long-term and is actively making progress with the language, he/she masters an average of 2 words a day. If I focus on each lesson’s “Expansion Sentences” (usually covering 4 or 5 of the vocabulary words), that should put me between 13 and 15 words a week. That is both manageable, and in line with the study I looked at.

If I’m able to maintain this rate, I should have a much larger vocabulary, and therefore better equipped to prepare for my next HSK attempt. Later this year I plan to switch from ChinesePod to actual HSK prep materials. My goal is to hit 270 out of 300 on the HSK 6. We’ll see how long it takes!